Quintet No. 1 for Brass

“This is Jeopardy! And the music question for $1000 is, Acclaimed composer-performer from Bermuda who also plays the tuba.” (Ken Jennings might not even get this one.) “And the answer is, Kenneth Amis!” Yes, a world-renowned tuba player from Bermuda. He entered Boston University at 16 and subsequently graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music with a master’s degree in composition. Kenneth is a performing member of the Empire Brass Quintet, one of the preeminent brass chamber groups in the world, and he held the International Brass Chair at the Royal Academy of Music in London. One reviewer wrote, “You haven’t lived until you have heard Kenneth Amis as tuba soloist in Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca.” Another described him as “witty and sensitive, one of the only tuba players of which it can be said that his playing is subtle and nuanced.” (I bet he hasn’t heard our Adam Snider.)

Kenneth took up the tuba by accident. His parents started him on the guitar and the piano, but he didn’t like either. He switched to the trombone in school, but one day the tuba player in the band dropped out, and the music director shifted everybody one chair to the left. What was waiting for him? The tuba and the rest is history.

Kenneth looks for a wide variety in his musical life. He emphasizes teaching as an important part of his career because it causes him closely to examine his techniques and aesthetic ideas to make sure they are worthy of being passed on to his students. He heartily subscribes to the idea that “to teach is to learn”.

I talked to Kenneth about this engaging piece. As you might expect, he is a thoroughly delightful person. I wanted to know more about it so I could prepare you to enjoy it. To my surprise, he wrote it when he was only 17 years old! He describes it as “intentionally conservative” not designed to break new ground. If anything, it captures the Romantic style as exemplified by Brahms. His advice is just to “relax and listen”. He did say that the third movement is a palindrome, which means if you play it backward, it will sound the same as if you play it from the beginning. He doesn’t expect anyone to listen to it in that light, but I thought I’d throw it in for you music majors.

How fun to talk to a living composer. Wouldn’t you like to talk to Beethoven? Or Rachmaninoff? Or Elgar? Thank goodness they continue to speak to us through their timeless music, and thanks to Kenneth for continuing our great music tradition. Where would we be without music?